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August 09, 2020

25 Years: 3000 Poster Project Kicks Butt

Largest Poster Project
August 5, 1996

It was a simple Monday assignment. Fill more most of a football field with 2,809 sheets of paper, each printed from an HP 3000 in four colors, to make a pattern of football players. "MPE Users Kick Butt" was tacked down with gutter-sized roofing nails to show HP's top executives the system could still do great things. The point was to make sure HP knew its 3000 could be connected to Postcript printers to print an enormous job, and that its customers were devoted to the product.

This was the World's Largest Poster Project, a brainchild of Wirt Atmar. The owner of AICS International made his bones in the word processor application field before shifting to reporting tools. QueryCalc was a ultra-spreadsheet for 3000 applications, giving its users a way to view and organize reports as easily as any Excel sheet set could. The volunteers wrapped the poster design around the name of the 3000's OS, which probably baffled some HP execs of the day.

This was also an important day for the still-new 3000 NewsWire. The poster was assembled at the Loara High School Football field in Anaheim, the town where we put up our first exhibit stand at the HP World conference. Interex had licensed the rights to the new conference name from HP. The NewsWire would be showing off its July, 1996 issue the next morning at the conference. We were also catering the volunteer effort with an array of Subway sandwiches and Domino's pizzas.

The poster was much splashier than anything we could order from fast food places. We engaged the high school's booster club to man the feeding tables, cementing the new relationship between school and 3000 community. Winds pick up by midday in Southern California in summer, so the dozens of poster builders getting a suntan from the bright sunlight glaring off the paper were racing the clock. Just after the stunt was completed, a helicopter was chartered to take a photo that Adager paid for, and then pitched to the Orange County Register.

Nothing is perfect, of course, so the panels of paper peeling up in the wind led to some hard feelings that a few volunteers took out on the catering menu. A typical 3000 tech expert — the Register called them nerds — can be picayune and exacting. "What do you mean you don't have a vegetarian kosher option for pizzas?" Domino's was unaware of how to make a pizza that fit both of those bills. Of such gripes were our debut day made in that sun. All were fed, and the newspaper smacked the photo and a story onto the front of its Local section.

We chronicled the record with an article in the August issue, the first-ever NewsWire edition to make its way in full to the World Wide Web.

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- More than 100 HP 3000 customers and channel partners succeeded in assembling the world's largest printed poster here, building a document of about 36,000 square feet on a high school football field. The poster was generated by an HP 3000 driving an HP DesignJet plotter, producing 2,650 3x4-foot sheets joined with tape and roofing nails.

In conjunction with this year's HP World '96 Conference and Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center, intensely loyal users of HP 3000 high-performance minicomputers bettered an existing world record by more than 35 percent. The HP 3000 mega-poster covered a 159 by 238 foot layout on the Loara High School football field just a few miles from the site of the HP conference. The completed poster weighed more than 670 pounds, and completely covered the area of the field between the 10-yard lines.

It was an accomplishment crafted from extraordinary cooperation. Born of Internet discussion and pushed along by a broad supporting cast of customers, the World's Largest Poster Project succeeded in attracting attention to the loyalty and satisfaction of HP 3000 customers, with only the support of a few channel partners to fund its material needs. And in the last hours of the record breaking effort, the poster was held together by the combined energies of a few dozen avid volunteers and thousands of two-inch roofing nails.

Fewer than three dozen volunteers were at work within a few hours of the start, rolling out strips of three-foot wide printer paper along the grass of the Loara High School football field. Fastening the paper to the field took more nails than the team had brought to the site, and soon several volunteers were dispatched to supply more of the most critical element in the project.

Meanwhile, the winds continued to climb, testing the resolve of a growing number of volunteers. Panels would spring up in the breeze, which seemed to appear from every possible direction. Project organizer Wirt Atmar (above, pointing out details to a volunteer's son) had printed the thousands of panels over a six week period and the driven the rolls of paper in a U-Haul truck from New Mexico. He stood alongside the poster's edge and gave instruction on holding it in place.

By 11AM, no more nails were on hand, and the question was on everyone's lips -- where are they? The winds climbed with the sun in the sky, and volunteers were forced to use shoes and poster tubes to hold the panels in place. As a section would rise up, dedicated customers would call out "It's coming up!" and race to tack it in place, an organic version of a fault tolerant system.

In succeeding to break the existing poster record, the HP 3000 customers started with virtual relationships. Unlike the previous record, which was done as a product promotion for HP and Disney, this poster was put together by a collection of individual HP 3000 users. There was no single corporate entity behind the poster -- the idea to put it together was born on the Internet. The group which grew to 100-plus volunteers assembling the poster each thought the event was an ideal and enjoyable way to make a gentle, irreverent statement about their belief in their chosen operating system.

The underlying message of the poster was to prove the HP 3000 was capable of things no other computer could accomplish, a concept not completely understood within all parts of HP. Users thought of their actions as a way to demonstrate an alternative to HP's more popular but less productive system choices. The good feeling on the field, however, kept the effort from feeling like a bitter protest.

"I've never seen anything like this," said volunteer Tony Shepherd. "It's a friendly rebellion."

The poster underscored the ability of the HP 3000 to directly support popular communication standards, and the applicability of its MPE operating system to situations where world-class companies bet their business on the computer system they use. HP 3000 users feel MPE has distinct advantages for mission-critical business applications, where efficiency, reliability, and tight integration with the hardware and database management system are paramount.

Volunteers starting laying out and securing the individual components of the poster just at dawn on August 5. The youngest volunteer was Andrea Wang, aged just 6 and helping to tie down loose panels along with her father Paul, a developer of HP 3000 products and former CSY engineer.

The last panel was laid in place around 11:45, and within minutes helicopters and Southern California news media were recording the event. HP 3000 users are not willing to risk any of the data in their computers, but they were willing to lay a large amount of paper and ink on the gridiron line to get their message across. The roofing nails were all collected by volunteers after the project and donated to Habitat for Humanity, while the poster paper was sent to a local area recycler.

03:11 PM in History, Homesteading, Newswire Classics | Permalink

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